Almost seven years have passed since Vanquish was released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This PC port and remaster I’m writing about today, has been a pleasant surprise since I honestly didn’t expect it. 2010 also marked the year in which I bought a PS3 and I’m proud to say that Vanquish was among my first video games on that console. I do have fond memories with it, yet some lingering issues related to the frame rate still haven’t been fully fixed. In anycase, developer PlatinumGames proves that originality can still be implemented even when a game’s topic is as Sci-Fi and Japanese as they come.
I’m not even talking about stereotypes here. Vanquish is a love letter to Japanese game development and a perspective into what makes robots/cyborgs so enticing. This title’s story is filled with plot twists, intricate (and fairly long) cutscenes and as much attention to detail as in its gameplay. If the Metal Gear series still has the longest between-mission animations, well I can only say that Vanquish inspired to some degree, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. While focusing more on the shooting from cover part than techno katanas, of course.
In the near future, a US space station/orbital laser gets hijacked by a separatist faction within the Russian Federation which proceeds to destroy San Francisco and threatens to attack New York. The Unites States Marine Corps gets tasked with recapturing the massive facility before it can recharge its weapon and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) lends a hand by sending in one of their elite operatives. Sam Gideon is the protagonist in Vanquish and he looks like Adam Jensen’s younger brother while his exoskeleton would put the ones in the Crysis series to shame. Too bad Sam can’t fly, or he’d give Iron Man a run for his money.
Gideon gets assisted by both fellow US troops and his trusty DARPA handler while he’ll fight against mostly robots of different shapes and sizes. Saying that the plot shall thicken, would be an understatement. Alas, I shall not spoil anything. Suffice to say that it’s a strong narrative regardless of some clichés. The villains are well motivated and the enemy types (plus boss fights) prove to be a real challenge when in sufficient number. Most battles take place in large, open areas so the very scale of Vanquish’s set pieces, is something to consider. It won’t be Dark Souls in space but it is definitely a cover-based shooter for a good reason. Advanced suit prototype or not, Sam won’t be able to take many direct hits and engaging in melee combat should only be used when low on ammo or when battling larger (and thus, slower) mechanized opponents.
Much like in Bayonetta’s case, Vanquish is powered by PlatinumGames’ proprietary graphics engine. I like referring to Vanquish as a remaster and not just a PC port, since it looks and runs much better than I recall playing and finishing it on my PS3. I remember that during intense fighting, 30fps was a luxury and I had to contend with micro stuttering as well. I endured, since the game is captivating enough. Considering my current PC, I’d never wish to play in those conditions ever again. As for the PC remaster I’m writing about today, it features ambient occlusion, better shadows and the textures are crisper and more detailed. There are sporadic low-res assets but overall, on PC you’ll experience the ultimate Vanquish version if it’s eye candy you’re after.
In pure Japanese video game tradition, the majority of the game’s file size is reserved by its frequent full-motion video sequences. For screenshot enthusiasts out there, F8 is gonna be you new best friend in Vanquish. You can instantly hide the User Interface by pressing that button and even play the game like that, if you wish. It does involve an extra layer of challenge, having to aim with no crosshair or any sort of pointers and visual aides, but I believe the added immersion is worth it in the end. The first person cutscenes & visor feedback seem locked to 30+ frames per second.
One weird thing I noticed is that once I deactivated the in-game Vertical Sync option and enabled the one from the Nvidia Control Panel, I had no more frame rate dips when playing maxed out on 4K resolution. Stable 60 fps, unlike the rare dips to 50s and 40s experienced before I found the work-around. Playing completely without any Vsync method, was out of the question since I despise screen tearing almost as much as unstable frame rate. On a capable system (i7 6700K, 32GB RAM and GTX 1070), this has to be a technical bug related to the native Vsync support, not my hardware. If you’re running Vanquish on 2K res or just 1080p, no worries. You’ll see 100+ frames per second even during the most heated battles.
Simply superb. I have yet to meet a Japanese title, regardless of its gaming genre, which would feature a weak or non-existent OST. Sound effects and the soundtrack are important, but the voice acting was the one which really stood out. Full emotional range and the occasional joke thrown in for good measure. Absolutely nothing to complain here.
The classic third person cover-based shooter formula which features some nice extra elements into the mix. Sam’s powerful suit has a propulsion system which allows him to rapidly slide for brief periods of time and thus enabling him to engage his robotic nemeses through all sorts of stunts. The second special element is a form of “bullet time” which automatically triggers once the protagonist is either low on health or attacked by something far deadlier than small caliber. We’re talking of shooting down missiles as they approach you kind of stunt. And that shall happen more often than not. Whether he’s backed up by AI-controlled marines or not, Gideon shall always be outnumbered and outgunned.
Without the use of tactics and patience (by carefully moving from cover to cover), you won’t last long out in the open. Luckly, DARPA has provided Sam with an extended and complex arsenal. Any type of projectiles you may think of, it’s probably included in Vanquish. The scarcity of the ammo is never a real issue since you can either loot neon-lit weapon crates or assist fellow soldiers by healing them and they shall happily share mags or grenades. Some boss fights follow a strict pattern, but most allow enough strategic freedom to approach from multiple locations. Quick Time Events are usually the culminating point for your aggressors. Without a proper coup de grâce it really wouldn’t feel rewarding at all, defeating an enemy several times bigger than our cybernetically enhanced hero.
An already excellent third person shooter even on last gen consoles, the PC version of Vanquish does not disappoint in any capacity. We’ve all heard or saw firsthand what a disastrous PC port can do for a gamer’s perception and even motivation. Seeing the favorite game you once played on a console, perform far worse on a PC, can really make a gamer question the support for his or her hobby of choice. All things considered, the Steam version of Vanquish is fully worth its price tag. You can always wait for a quality bundle or Steam Sale and pick it up at a nice discount, but know that even if you pay the full price, you won’t regret it.
All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.